OK, I see that the jacket copy and blurbs of Happy Families (Knopf, 2012), by award-winning novelist (and Poetry Princess) Tanita Davis, don’t reveal what the family secret is, even though it comes out fairly early in the book and is alluded to in the dedication (or maybe the epigram–don’t remember which) and on the cover. But if you don’t want to know what the main conflict of this novel is, stop reading here!
Twins Justin and Ysabel are high school seniors with a family-shattering secret. Their father likes to dress as a woman. They don’t
understand it at all, and their dad has moved away. Their family is falling apart, and so are they.
Justin has stopped talking to the girlfriend he
really likes. He has dropped off the debate team. Ysabel has let all her friendships die and lost herself in her art/jewelry-making. Their caterer mother has lost interest in her work and gone silent. There’s a lot of silence here.
Lots of questions and misunderstandings, but little talking. Few answers.
But when the twins’ parents force Justin and Ys to visit Dad for spring break, things come to a head. They are drawn into therapy, into conversations, and into outings with other families of transgender individuals.
Not exactly the spring break they were hoping for.
What I love about this book is that all four members of the family (and the grandparents, too) love each other strongly. They are heartbroken and confused and angry. But they come through. There still are questions by the end of the book, which normally would bother me a little more. But I think in an issue this complex, it would be too much of a fairy tale to wrap everything up in a neatly tied package.
Another thing I love is the insight into hobbies. Tanita Davis (who’s a friend of mine) is so wonderful at this. In A LA CARTE, she made me want to be a cook. Now, I’m thinking I might need to invest in a torch-welder (or whatever it’s called). Even debate philosophies sprinkled here and there totally work and are interesting in this. I love learning the inside scoop on different activities and hobbies without ever feeling like someone is trying to teach me about it. It’s just an organic and fascinating part of the world Davis creates here.
This book will end up on lots of lists of books recommended for teens who are dealing with GLBTA issues, but I sure hope it isn’t limited to those specific readers. This is a great book, straight-up, for any reader looking for a strong, engrossing story. I think it will *do* a lot of good and matter to a lot of teens, but the fact is just that it *is* good.
The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the end matter. It defines and discusses different terms/lingo, and the tone felt very stern to me. In fact, I’m a little wary of discussing the issue at all now because I don’t remember what’s acceptable and what’s not, and I don’t want to say something that’s going to offend a whole group of people! I would have rather read an author’s note from Tanita, who is warm and funny and loving, sharing a bit of her personal take on the issue or what drew her to the subject matter. But that’s a small gripe on a novel that I loved.
(I bought my copy of this book–not provided by publisher.)